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Out of the Limelight

The view of the Arctic Council's founding, from the media

Media interest in the inauguration of the Arctic Council was modest – to say it politely. As representatives of the eight Arctic States gathered in Ottawa on 19 September to sign the Ottawa Declaration, only two journalists were in the room: Jane George from Nunatsiaq News and Markku Heikkilä from the Finnish regional newspaper Kaleva. Learn how they experienced the event from two excerpts of their articles.

Arctic Umbrella Open

20 September 1996 – Kaleva, Markku Heikkilä

New Council brings together nations and peoples of the North

OTTAWA The Arctic Council was established in Ottawa at midnight Finnish time. The whole occasion including the speeches and signatures was over in a few hours.
However, it has taken a long time to reach this point.

During the Cold War, cooperation between the Arctic countries was a complete impossibility. The first intergovernmental step was taken in early 1990s, when the countries agreed on environmental co-operation within the so-called Rovaniemi process.

The Arctic Council, which has now been formed due to the active position of Canada, can be compared to the Councils of the Baltic and Barents Seas, the most significant new feature of it being that the new agreement will also involve the United States in regional cooperation with the countries of northern Europe.

A short founding Declaration of just several pages was signed in Ottawa. The Declaration of the Arctic Council was set up in rather general terms, as particularly the American legal experts had sought to remove all potentially slightest problematic specificity from the draft document.

The introduction to the Declaration reiterates commitment of the countries to promote well-being of the Arctic residents and nature as well as sustainable development including economic and social development, to improve health conditions and cultural well-being. Biodiversity is highlighted, also the role of Indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge. The Saami peoples, the Inuits and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of Northern Siberia and the Far East are included as Permanent Participants from the very beginning. However, the American Indians are not.

According to the Agreement, other Indigenous peoples can join later. They must be then represented by an organization of an Indigenous nation residing in several states or of several Indigenous nations residing in a single country. [...]

What is the Arctic council anyway?

20 September 1996 –
Nunatsiaq News, Jane George

The Arctic Council is, apparently, a great thing for the people of the Arctic. But what the newly-formed body is supposed to do depends on which country’s leader is talking.
OTTAWA - Eight strokes of a pen gave it life, but no one seems to know what the Arctic Council really is.

For years, the eight circumpolar nations wrangled over the exact wording of the declaration establishing the Arctic Council.

Despite their apparent consensus over the document signed last week in Ottawa, members still don’t seem to agree on the Arctic Council’s mandate or priorities.

What Canada says

The Canadian view of what the Arctic Council could be has been widely promoted within our borders.

Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, described the Arctic Council as a body that will forge a new part­nership among circumpolar nations.
For Axworthy, that cooperation will raise the profile of northern issues and successfully bring economic and environmental needs together.

But, in his remarks at the inaugural ceremonies last week in Ottawa, Greenland’s Premier Lars Emil Johansen added another dimension to the Arctic Council.
Premier Johansen called the declaration a “great historical deal” that could have economic benefits.

The Greenlandic leader emphasized that the council could provide an economic link among circumpolar nations, and that it could even become an “instrument for promoting industrial cooperation and mutual trade.”

And so, it went. It was as though the homeroom teacher had asked each delegate to write a short essay on “What the Arctic Council means to me.” [...]